U.S. Supreme Court asked to hear Hawaii ceded lands appeal

Chris Rizo Apr. 29, 2008, 3:39pm

Mark Bennett

HONOLULU (Legal Newsline)-Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett on Tuesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a recent state court decision that prevents Hawaii from selling or transferring ceded lands.

The Petition for a Writ of Certiorari was filed to reverse a Jan. 31 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court in a case between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii.

In that case, the state justices ruled that the Congressional Apology Resolution prohibits the state from selling, exchanging or transferring any of the more than 1.2 million acres of ceded land until it reaches a settlement with native Hawaiians.

Passed by Congress in 1993, the Apology Resolution acknowledges the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and apologizes for the U.S. government's role in destroying the islands' monarchy.

"I believe that the decision of the Hawaii Supreme Court is based on a wholly incorrect reading of the legal effect of the Apology Resolution, and strips the state of its basic sovereign right to control and manage the lands it owns," Bennett said.

Bennett said "nothing" in the Apology Resolution "explicitly or implicitly impairs Hawaii's sovereign right to control or alienate any of the lands it owns."

The ceded lands account for about 29 percent of Hawaii's total land area and almost all state-owned lands. Currently, the state receives millions annually in rents from tenants of the land.

When Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898, lands formerly held by the monarchy were ceded to the United States and later transferred in trust to the state.

The Admission Act stated that the ceded lands, "together with the proceeds from the sale or other disposition of [these] lands and the income" must be used by the state for one or more of five purposes, Burnett said.

The lands' purposes include for the support of public schools and other public education institutions, for the betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians, for the development of farm and home ownership, for public improvements; and for public use of the lands.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide by October if it will consider the case and a decision could be made by June 2009, Bennett said in a statement.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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